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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Alamy Stock Photo
# liverpool 2023
Notes from the Eurovision: X Factor-style climax axed by BBC and the Irish are 'feeling good'
Meanwhile, Marty Whelan isn’t sold on “older gentlemen in their underpants”.

Daragh Brophy reports from Liverpool:

ONE BAND MEMBER’S description of tweaks to the Eurovision format as being akin to the Hunger Games aside, Wild Youth were in a notably upbeat mood this morning as they spoke to reporters in Liverpool.

The contrast to the last time they spoke to The Journal - in the aftermath of the firing of their creative director for the contest - couldn’t have been more pronounced. 

The four piece, who were chatting in their hotel lobby ahead of the latest full dress rehearsal for tonight’s semi-final, have been in Liverpool since the start of the month for rehearsals, photoshoots, interviews and other Song Contest hoopla. 

Last night, they had their first outing in front of a capacity crowd at the massive Liverpool Arena at one of the various dress rehearsals that are ticketed and open to the public. And while they’re careful not to count their chickens, the Dubliners are pretty confident about making it through to the final from tonight’s show. 

Of course, there’s only one prize and one winner at the Eurovision. That’s all to be decided on Saturday night.

But even making the cut for the final would be a welcome break in a particularly poor run of form for the country over the last decade. 

Ireland has only made it past the semi-finals once since 2013 – a far cry from the heady days of the 1990s when we managed to win the contest outright three years in a row. 

There’s another Irish record at risk this week too. If Sweden – hotly tipped to take the title thanks to returning champion Loreen’s anthemic ‘Tattoo’ – they’ll equal Ireland’s overall tally of seven wins across the contest’s history. 

But there’s no talk of those pesky Swedes as the group prepares to board their bus to the venue. 

“We are feeling good, feeling rested,” says frontman Conor O’Donohoe, adding that he’s been told an audience poll taken after last night’s warm-up show had put them in sixth place – well within the required top ten placing to qualify. 

amsterdam-wild-youth-from-ireland-during-the-annual-eurovision-in-concert-eurovision-party-takes-place-in-afas-live-anp-sander-koning-netherlands-out-belgium-out-credit-anpalamy-live-news Alamy Stock Photo Wild Youth's Conor O'Donohoe performs at a Eurovision warm-up show in Amsterdam. Alamy Stock Photo

As for why comparisons to the Hunger Games were being bandied around by the group, it was confirmed last night that producers had scrapped plans to go with an X Factor-style climax to the semi-final shows featuring reaction shots of the disappointed non-qualifiers.

The Eurovision fan community had been up in arms over the planned change to the format, considering it cruel, unnecessary and out of keeping with the touted song contest theme of ‘unity’.

Marty Whelan – who will be commentating on his 24th Eurovision this year – agreed it wasn’t quite in keeping with what the contest is all about. 

“I think it’s the right decision. In any event I don’t like the idea of people standing up on stage in front of thousands of people and millions of a TV audience and being told you didn’t get through. It didn’t feel right when I watched it.”

Anything else that didn’t feel quite right about the contest, we wondered.

“I’m not mad about older gentlemen in their underpants.”

Having to watch innumerable rehearsals by avant-garde Croatian rockers Let 3 is clearly getting to poor Marty.

“But if we didn’t have that sort of daftness up there then it wouldn’t be the Eurovison Song Contest. It’s all about sparkle and nonsense and people having a laugh.”

The RTÉ veteran reckons the BBC – hosting the contest on behalf of last year’s winners Ukraine, for obvious reasons – have put together a spectacular series of shows, and says viewers can expect plenty of Ukrainian themes and touches throughout.

“They’ve done a great job in incorporating everything Ukrainian into the production.

“They are very much an integral part of this. We were looking at some pictures with some friends last night of when we did the Eurovision in Kyiv – twice – and it’s very sad to think now that we’ve come to this place.”

After a quick word on rumours from back home of a ‘coronation’ of Patrick Kielty as the new Late Late host (“well my phone hasn’t started ringing”), Marty, the band and the rest of the Irish crew were hurried off to the venue in time for the afternoon dress rehearsal.

Virtually indistinguishable from the evening show, these run-throughs are pumped into the massive media room on multiple screens at a pretty high volume.

There were a few nodding heads and tapping feet among the members of the press as the Irish performance played out. The aforementioned Croatian underpants rockers generated probably about twice as many nods, and Finland’s bonkers Strictly Ballroom meets ‘The Road’ banger actually had a few people on their feet and punching the air. (The bar isn’t even open yet). 

Some acts, mind, generated no perceptible response at all.

Hardly scientific, but that’s literally all I have to provide in terms of reading the room at the time of writing. 

We’ll know more by tonight of course. The show proper starts at 8.

If you’re only in it for the voting, we should get the results shortly after 10.

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